Dealing with Nausea When You Have a Chronic Illnessby Lene Andersen, MSW Patient Advocate
Nausea is a particularly nasty symptom. Your stomach’s on a rollercoaster and you’re sure you’re going to throw up. It can occur as a precursor to vomiting, or on its own. Generally, it can happen when you have stomach flu, motion sickness, or are pregnant. But for people with chronic illness, it may be part of their every day.
Two kinds of nausea with chronic illness
There are generally two causes of nausea when you have a chronic illness. One is connected to the disease itself, where simply living with a particular chronic illness includes symptoms of nausea. The second cause of nausea may be the treatment for the chronic illness.
Chronic illnesses accompanied by nausea
Nausea is a common symptom of many chronic illnesses. Migraine and gastrointestinal conditions such as Crohn’s and irritable bowel disease are particularly well known for it. Nausea can also accompany rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety and stress, allergies, chronic pain, and others.
Nausea as a medication side effect
If you look at the list of side effects for any medication, nausea and stomach upset are fairly common. When you have a chronic illness, you often have to take a lot of medication, much of which can make you nauseated. It can be hard to balance the potential side effects against the beneficial effects of the medication.
Temporary and short-term nausea
Sometimes, you can predict that your nausea is temporary: for instance, when it’s a side effect to meds. You can deal with this by eating light and bland foods: steamed fish, rice, crackers, fresh, raw vegetables, or the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast), and drinking water, apple juice, and herbal teas.
If your condition or the medications you take cause consistent nausea, there are a number of things you can do to control it. These remedies range from prescription and over-the-counter medication to teas and certain flavors of candy.
Medications to help control nausea are called antiemetics. These kinds of medication serve two purposes: to prevent you from throwing up, and to prevent the feeling of nausea. If your nausea affects your quality of life, talk to your doctor about whether a prescription antiemetic may be appropriate.
You can also find a number of antiemetic medications over-the-counter. In addition, antacids and certain antihistamines also can help control nausea. Ask your pharmacist for advice and make sure to keep a record of what you take to share with your doctor.
Ginger can be tremendously helpful in controlling nausea. In fact, a study of people undergoing chemotherapy found that ginger reduces post-chemotherapy nausea by 40 percent. It can also be helpful for controlling nausea in other conditions. Ginger may increase blood pressure or aggravate acid indigestion, but should otherwise be safe.
Teas and lozenges
There are number of teas and infusions in both hot and cold water that can help reduce nausea. Mint, ginger, and chamomile tea, as well as hot water with a small piece of lemon are well known to be effective against nausea. You can also get mint and ginger candies — go sugar-free to prevent weight gain and cavities.
Certain supplements also may be effective in reducing nausea, especially if it is part of digestive issues related to either your condition or the side effects from medication. Probiotics can be useful in easing stomach symptoms, as can slippery elm. Talk to your doctor or a naturopath about how to use supplements.
If you have severe nausea and it limits your ability to function or affects your quality of life, it’s important to take action. Keep in mind that the meds are supposed to help you live better, not limit you as much as chronic illness. Talk to your doctor about treatment options for your chronic illness or the nausea itself.